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Running on Fuel – Quinoa, Fruit, and Nut Bars

In our home, eating nourishing and sustainable foods is just one part of our quest to maintain a healthy and balanced lifestyle. Dustin and I have shifted towards using minimally processed ingredients not only because of their rapport but because these foods help fuel our active lifestyle. We both typically engage in some sort of exercise every day. While our fitness obsessions have varied over time, from climbing, to yoga, to cycling, running, soccer and HIIT training, this vast cornucopia of exercises all have one thing in common. Each sport or hobby we take on requires that we power our bodies with clean burning fuel.

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Back in our climbing days Dustin and I munched on countless cliff bars and downed an endless flow of vitamin water. But these bars and sports drinks, while not exactly abysmal, are far from clean and healthy. Vitamin water in particular is packed with processed sugars, artificial dyes, and chemically engineered flavoring. Clif bars were fine, at the time, for providing an immediate source of fuel to push us through laps at the gym, but with most varieties clocking almost 25g of sugar mostly from the primary ingredient, brown rice syrup (which, as an ingredient, boasts virtually no nutritional merit) these aren’t exactly a healthy option for most athletes.

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There is a place for consuming quickly digestible sugars and other carbs in endurance heavy events, where you might be working out for multiple hours and might deplete your glycogen stores if you do not refuel. These bars could be used in this way – although, with about 7 grams of fiber in each bar you probably would not want to eat too many of them on a very long run. We’ve been using them as a pre-run fuel (taking advantage of the natural fruit sugars and complex grain carbs) or as a post-workout recovery snack (utilizing the 11 grams of protein from the nuts, seeds and protein powder).

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What initially caught my eye in this post’s featured recipe was the lack of added sugar. Typically, granola bars or power bars contain a boatload of honey, maple, or molasses to sweeten and bind. Not so here! Also exciting to me was the fact that you don’t need to bake them. You may have a moment of doubt as you peer into the food processor wondering how on earth these things are ever going to stick together. But persevere – once the juice is added at the end the mix should start to resemble a piecrust dough, crumbly but clumpy at the same time. Like with a piecrust, go easy on the juice, adding a little at a time until you sense that the mixture will just bind when pressed into the pan. As with pastry, finding the right balance may take a batch or two to master.

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I adapted the original recipe a bit to include some protein powder. I used an unflavored rice-based protein, which, I suspect, may have aided in the binding process. While I am fairly certain that any type of protein powder could be used here, it may alter the texture a bit. I am picky when it comes to buying dried fruit. I strongly prefer to buy organic as dried fruit are truly just shriveled versions of whole fruit and can carry with them the same residues from conventional growing practices, only in increased concentration. Trader Joe’s typically has an excellent selection of dried fruit and I find that their prices are far lower than large box stores.

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I really like the R.W. Knudsen Family line of juices. I used their black cherry juice in this recipe. It is a simple juice made from only one ingredient! I imagine that any of their single fruit juices would work well in its stead. The black cherry is the only one I have found in small, 8oz, servings. If you have never come across quinoa flakes before, they are quite similar to rolled oats. I am fairly certain that oats could be successfully substituted but if you can find the quinoa flakes they are worth a try as they are much higher in protein content than oats and are likely a bit easier/faster to digest.

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The amounts of the various dried fruits can be toyed with and adjusted to suit your specific preference. I used what I had on hand and I ended up really liking the balance of fruit in the end-product, but I imagine that there are many other dried fruits, from mangos, to figs, to dates, that would work well. Just as in other aspects of your diet, picking a variety of fruits from various different families (i.e. berries, stone fruit, pomes etc…) will provide, not only a well balanced flavor profile, but a broader nutritional profile as well.

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Quinoa Fruit and Nut Bars – Adapted from “He Needs Food”

Recipe – Makes about 12 Bars
84g (1c) Quinoa Flakes
112g (1c) Almonds, Roughly Chopped
15g (¼ c) Desiccated Coconut
120g Dried Apple Rings (About 30 Rings)
130g (1¼ c) Dried Cherries
130g Dried Apricots (About 20 Apricots)
30g (¼ c) Zante or Corinth Currants
40g (¼ c) Dried Blueberries
75g (5T) Vegan Rice Powder (other powder may be substituted, see note above)
120g (½ c) Cherry Juice
70g (½ c) cup Pepitas (divided)

Line a 7 × 11 inch baking pan with parchment paper (no need to grease or spray the pan.) Paper should hang over the sides; you will later use this overhang as “handles” to remove the bars from the pan. Set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Place quinoa flakes, chopped almonds, and coconut on a large, rimmed baking tray and toast in the oven until just golden and fragrant. You may need to stir the mixture once or twice in order to ensure reasonably even toasting.

Roughly chop all of the dried fruit and then pulse once or twice in batches in the food processor until minced. Make sure you stop well short of turning it into a fruit paste!

Place the cooled quinoa flakes, almonds, and coconut in the processor and pulse briefly until it becomes a coarse meal. Add the protein powder to the bowl of minced fruit pieced and toss them together with your hands to distribute the powder and “unstick” some of the fruit clumps. Add this to the food processor along with half of the pepitas and pulse once or twice to combine with the nut/quinoa meal.

Drizzle over about half of the juice and pulse once or twice, continue adding the juice in TBSP increments, pulsing in-between until the mixture just starts to come together. When the mix is ready it should still contain discernable pieces of fruit and nuts and hold together if pinched between thumb and forefinger.

Dump the mixture into the lined baking pan and distribute evenly across its surface. Tear off a piece of parchment large enough to fit over the pan and place on top of the mixture. Using the bottom of a drinking glass, start at one corner and press down firmly on the mixture to compact the mix and even out the surface. Remove the parchment and sprinkle the remaining pepitas over the top. To adhere these to the surface, replace the parchment and press again, lighter this time (so as not to crush the pepitas.)

Cover the mixture tightly with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight to allow the bars to solidify. The next morning, lift the sides of the parchment to remove the bars and place on a cutting board. Using a sharp knife and a smooth vertical cutting motion (no sawing!) cut the bars into 12 even pieces. These keep well for a week or two in a tightly sealed Tupperware container in the fridge.

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Caution – Curves Ahead – Allergy Free Carrot and Oat Muffins

In the last month so much has changed. After months of eating so well and yet feeling progressively worse, I was told that I have IBS and am likely having trouble digesting certain carbohydrates. This temporary fix of avoiding the ferment-able carbohydrates that have been wrecking havoc on my digestive system is simple enough on paper, but in actuality it involves avoiding many ingredients that I have long held near and dear. In a matter of weeks, I have gone from embracing essentially the entire world of whole and wonderful foods (in moderation of course) to working every cell of creativity in my brain to make something delicious and nourishing from of a very limited list of ingredients.

For the next two weeks I will be on the full-blown version of the Low Fodmap diet. Following that begins the challenge phase where small and then larger amounts of a specific type of carbohydrates can be added to see if they are the culprit responsible for irritating my poor tummy. For example, if large onslaughts of high fiber cereal, whole wheat pasta, breads, beets, and broccoli don’t make my stomach churn, it is safe to assume I don’t have problems with Fructans. If, however, a slice or 2 of bread lands me in pain, we can surmise that I do, in fact, have difficulty digesting Fructans and I can work to determine my threshold or tolerance for different Fructan containing foods.

To say that this has had an impact on my cooking would be a severe understatement. I realize now just how much I rely on handful of go to ingredients to build flavor in recipes. Without onions, garlic, or dairy, without the ability to combine nuts and fruits in the same meal, without bread, whole wheat and homey options are limited and I have to get pretty darn creative in order to produce wholesome meals for Dustin and I that comply with the “rules” of the low fodmap diet. Gluten-free recipes are a good place to start, especially for anything baking related. Low FODMAPers can also look to many paleo sites for ideas as there is substantial overlap between the ingredients not allowed in the two diets. I will caution that many Paleo baking recipes rely heavily on nut fours which, while technically allowed, can be a concentrated source of Galactans if eaten in large quantities. Also worth noting, paleo recipes typically incorporate agave and honey, both of which should be avoided on a Low FODMAP diet, maple syrup and regular sugar can be substituted, but, again, when combined with nut flours the recipe may in fact turn out an end product that is HIGH in FODMAPs.

This recipe was adapted from one I found in La Tartine Gourmande’s lovely cookbook. If you have not had a chance to peruse the book (or her fantastic blog) I highly recommend doing so. Her blog is full of sweet wistful recipes and beautiful photos and her book is a fantastic resource for anyone looking to reduce or avoid gluten sources in their diet. The original recipe called for apples, tahini, and muscovado sugar all of which I replaced with alternatives in my version. I am certain that the apples would be lovely and if you are not on a low FODMAP diet feel free to substitute these in equal amounts for the grated carrots listed below (the apples would also need to be grated.) As I am currently on the strictest part of the elimination diet I am working diligently to stick to the list of approved foods, I could not find information on Muscovado sugar so I substituted brown sugar for the Light Muscovado, again I am sure the Muscovado would work amazingly well but for the Low FODMAP dieters, light brown sugar is a safer bet.

As for why I use almond butter in my recipe instead of the tahini called for, it was simply what I had on hand. Even low Fodmappers should be safe to use the tahini paste called for provided that it is either home-made or there are no unapproved additives.  I recently whipped up a batch of almond butter in our Vitamix blender. If you have a vitamix and have never tried making your own nut butter it is so amazingly simple. Any nuts will work, I used almonds but feel free to experiment with whatever you have on hand, or create your own custom blend from a variety of different nuts. I highly suggest toasting/roasting and then slightly cooling the nuts before processing as it will result in a much richer flavor. Simply place about 2 cups of roasted/toasted nuts in the blender and turn the speed to variable 1. Slowly increase the speed, using the plunger to push the nuts down into the blades as you go, until you reach variable 10. Process until you come out with a smooth and creamy butter. If you like your nut butter on the chunky side pulse the nuts until they are fine but not paste-y and then remove some to stir back into the final product. You can also add some sea salt at the beginning of the process for a slightly saltier nut butter.

I list weights below in grams. If you don’t have a kitchen scale I have provided approximate measurements for the ingredients but I cannot recommend enough buying a scale, it is way more precise and conveniently negates the need to clean gooey sticky substances from the corners of all of your measuring cups after each baking procedure (and who likes more dishes?) I use an OXO scale with a pull out display that is available at Target stores. The pull out display is particularly nice when you are trying to measure ingredients onto a large plate or bowl that would otherwise tower over and completely cover the display.

Another handy feature of this scale is that the g/oz conversion button is on the top. My old kitchen scale had the switch on the bottom so to convert you would have to remove whatever you were weighing, press the button, and hope not to lose the weight you were measuring in the process by accidentally turning off the machine and clearing the display. I think there are two similar OXO models, both of which are carried by Target, one has a ~5lb max weight threshold and the other goes to ~11lb. I suggest pony-ing up a few extra bucks for the larger weight capacity as it makes it easier to put large/heavy items on the scale for measurement. This is particularly useful if you bake bread and have to measure 1 KG of flour, plus water into a large kitchen aid mixing bowl. With the lower capacity scale, it is quite easy to exceed the weight limit and they you have to set about using, and dirtying, separate bowls to weigh out your ingredients.

Allergy Free Carrot and Oat Muffins – Adapted, Slightly from La Tartine Gourmande’s Millet, Oat, and Apple Muffins

Yield – 10 Muffins

175g Coarsely Grated Carrots
2 Large Eggs at Room Temperature
80g (~1/2 C Packed) Light Brown Sugar
60 g (1/2 C) Millet Flour
30g (1/4 C) Quinoa Flour
50g (1/2 C) Thick Rolled Oats (Really, Any Kind are OK, Just Like the Toothsome Bite that Thicker Oats Bring to These)
Pinch of Sea Salt  (~ 1/8 TSP)
1 TSP Baking Powder
1/2 TSP Baking Soda
32g (2 TBSP) Almond Butter
50g (3 1/2 TBSP) Unsalted Butter, Melted and Slightly Cooled
1 TSP Pure Vanilla Extract

Preheat the oven to 350°. This recipe barely ekes out 10 standard (from a 12 muffin sheet pan) sized muffins. Gluten free muffins have a habit of sticking to paper muffin liners. I would advocate against using these if possible as you will likely end up losing a large portion of the muffin when you attempt to peel off the paper liner. Many gluten free bakers swear by using silicone muffin liners, I have not used them but imagine they would take care of the problem I just mentioned with the muffin batter adhering to the paper liners. I did not have silicone liners and could not find them anywhere so I sprayed the tins with organic canola oil spray and hoped for the best. For the Low FODMAP-ers out there, do not use baking spray as it has flour and other additives that may produce a reaction. Chose from the above listed options (spray, silicone liners, or paper liners) and prepare 10 out of the 12 muffin molds for filling. Set the tray aside.

Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer (or, if you don’t have a standing mixer, place the eggs and sugar in a large bowl and grab and get an electric hand mixer suited up and at the ready – I would not really recommend doing this by hand with just a whisk, your arm may fall off and I cannot claim liability for lost limbs.) Get your stand mixer all fitted with the paddle attachment. Bring the machine up to medium speed, about a 5 on a kitchen-aid, and whisk until the mixture has significantly lightened in color and has at least doubled in volume. This should take a few minutes, so while it whisks away pull out a medium sized bowl and your handy kitchen scale (see note above) and measure out your dry ingredients. Whisk them together. Add the grated carrots and toss them with the flour, separating clumps of carrot shreds as you go until the carrots are evenly coated in the flour mixture.

Your egg/sugar mixture should be nice and fluffy at this point. Add the nut butter, melted butter, and vanilla and mix for another 30 seconds – one minute or until well combined. Scrape the bowl well and mix once more to ensure that all of the wet ingredients are well incorporated. Remove the mixer bowl from the stand and add the dry ingredients. Use a slightly flexible spatula and trace semi circles down and around the outside of the bowl folding gently towards the center as you go. You want to mix the ingredients without adding a lot of air or over mixing. As soon as there are no more visible clumps of dry ingredients in the mixture stop stirring and use a large spoon or ice-cream scoop to evenly distribute the batter into the 10 prepared muffin wells.

Sprinkle a few rolled oats onto the top of the muffins and place them in the center of the preheated oven. Bake for about 12 Minutes, rotate the pan so that the back is in the front and continue cooking for another 12-15 minutes. When the muffins are fully cooked (a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean) remove them from the oven. Allow to cook for about 3 minutes before turning them out onto a wire cooling rack to cool. Enjoy the muffins as is or smear with your favorite spread (I recommend trying butter, peanut butter, and/or jam.)

Power Through It – Super Foods Salad

I apologize, ladies and gentlemen, for the lapse in our posting, but it has been a long week and a half. Since we last posted Dustin and I have packed virtually every item in our little home into boxes. We have meticulously planned our move, transferred utilities, found adequate transportation, and recruited assistance from very kind friends, only to find that on our planned moving day our road will be closed virtually all day for Nashville’s Music City Marathon. We will not have access to our street, or to the alley behind it, and will not be able to park within a 4 block radius of our current dwelling. So much for meticulous planning. After spending Saturday morning panic stricken, I came up with a slightly nutty plan B that will put our now free morning to use by installing the raised beds we have planned for our very first home vegetable garden.

A few weeks back I spent several hours perusing the Burpee catalog for the best possible array of organic seeds that could be direct sown into the garden. Just before ordering Dustin and I ventured out to Whole Foods, where we discovered that our local store had its own great selection of seeds, with no shipping required. Our current design is for four – four by four foot raised beds, arranged according to the length of the growing season (some we are hoping to get two seasons out of – be reaping, tilling, and resewing in late august) and the amount of water needed to grow the crops. We are also planning a salad table, a shallow, portable, and lightweight raised bed that can be used for growing delicate salad greens and have high hopes to grow “trash can” sweet potatoes.

I never used to be much of a fan of sweet potatoes. In my mind, they were part of the “potato” category, which I dismissed entirely as bland and starchy. It wasn’t until 2 years ago, on a camping trip in Kentucky, that I finally realized how wrong I had been to eschew this brilliant tuber. The powers that be that bestowed the name on this veggie got one thing right, they are indeed sweet, its hard to fathom that so many recipes for sweet potatoes call for additions of sugar, maple, or even, gasp, marshmallows. When roasted for long periods of time these bright orange gems literally ooze with sugary sweetness that is entirely their own.

In this dish, which was sparked by a sweet potato and quinoa side dish on Sprouted Kitchen, I combine sweet roasted sweet potato nuggets with smoky paprika, earthy lentils, nutty quinoa, and a zingy jalapeno dressing. The strong flavor components of the dish are inspired by the traditional smoky, hot and sweet notes of good southern barbeque. From a nutritional perspective this dish has it all covered. The sweet potatoes provide an almost unsurpassed source of Vitamin C which is best activated when combined with a small amount of fat, which can be found in the olive oil in our zingy vinaigrette. The lentils provide a great source of folate, iron, fiber, and protein. The quinoa is yet another great punch of fiber in this dish and a nice nutty and almost creamy texture to the salad. And I cannot even begin to sing the praises of Kale, it provides and excellent source of vitamins K, C, and A, as well as dietary fiber and has been hailed for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. So don’t hesitate to dig in and enjoy this super healthy, super delicious salad.

Super Foods Salad

For the Salad Dressing
2 Jalapenos, Cut in Half (Seeds In)
3/4 C Chopped Cilantro
3 Large Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Shallots, Minced
Zest (Minced) and Juice of 2 Limes
6 TBSP Olive Oil

For the Quinoa
1 Lg Onion, Diced
1/2 TSP Ground Corriander
1/2 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 Cup Quinoa
1 C Water

For the Sweet Potatoes
2-3 Medium Sized Sweet Potatoes (1.5-2 lbs) Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 TSP Smoked Hot Paprika
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
Olive Oil to Lightly Coat

For the Lentils
3/4 C. de Puy or Beluga Lentils
2 Bay Leaves
1 TSP Kosher Salt

1 Bunch of Kale Roughly Chopped

To make the Salad Dressing – preheat the oven to 425 degrees, rub the jalapenos lightly with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast on a foil lined sheet pan for 15 mins, or until softened and slightly browned. Once roasted, place on a cutting board and allow to cool before mincing the jalapenos. Place the minced peppers in a small bowl along with the other dressing ingredients and mix well to combine, set aside.

To make the sweet potatoes toss the potato cubes with the spices and add just enough olive oil to lightly coat. Placed on a foil lined baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins, turning the potatoes over at least once during the roasting process.

While the potatoes roast make the quinoa. Add about a tablespoon of oil to a saute pan, add onion and sautee until softened and beginning to brown, add quinoa and spices and stir, allow spices and grains to toast, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes before adding the water, bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 mins, or until the liquid is just absorbed. Turn off the heat and set aside.

To cook the lentils, place lentils in a sauce pan and cover with 1-2 inches of water. Add bay leaves and salt and bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until just tender (be careful not to over cook them as they will turn to mush.) As soon as the lentils are cooked, place the lentils in a colander and rinse with cool water (or shock in an ice water bath) until the lentils are just cooled (this will stop the cooking) allow to drain completely.

To serve the salad combine the sweet potatoes with the lentils, quinoa, and kale in a large bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add the dressing, a bit at a time, until just dressed (the kale will wilt slightly reducing the body of the salad, so err on the side of under-dressing as more can be added later.) Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Taste and add additional dressing, salt, and pepper as needed. Serve and Enjoy!

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